The Story Of How Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Was Born

By Laura . December 7, 2012 . 6:00pm

The reason Shu Takumi joined Capcom in the first place was because he’d always loved mystery games, and so, he wanted to make his own someday. It was no surprise that he would go on to one day create the Ace Attorney series.


In a recent Iwata Asks interview for Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, Takumi reveals that his first opportunity to work on the original Ace Attorney game came after his stint on Dino Crisis 2.


In an effort to foster and push younger employees in the year 2000, Capcom set up a company initiative that was essentially: “We’ll give you a year, so make whatever you want.” Takumi pounced on this opportunity and used the time he’d been given to brainstorm a prototype for Ace Attorney.


The goal was to make a mystery game. However, according to Takumi, these games also tend to follow preset pattern—make a few choices and then deduce the mystery from there. Takumi wanted to make the experience more involving for players, rather than just having them do the deductions.


This was when the phrase “search out the lies” came to him. Essentially, if you were reading the text and you felt something funny was going on, you would be able to point it out. He felt that this design would be intuitive, simple to understand, and also allow for many different possibilities. For example, if you had three testimonies and five pieces of evidence you could use, together, that would make for fifteen possible combinations.


“This naturally led to the main character’s profession being a lawyer,” Takumi recalls in his conversation with Iwata. You would be able to search for clues, and then afterwards you could hold a trial. This was a kind of game that hadn’t been done before.


As fresh as the idea was, though, the reception it was met with within Capcom was not very positive. One of the main issues brought up was that the law system was too complex. Just hearing the words “lawyer” or “trial,” Takumi’s colleagues felt that the topic would be too rigid to work with and too difficult for players to get a handle on.


Even Resident Evil creator, Shinji Mikami, who was Takumi’s supervisor when he’d been working on Dino Crisis, called over summer vacation to say: “I think it’s better if you discontinue this.”


According to Takumi, his reaction was: “Here I am, working industriously through my vacation, and that’s what you say to me?” However, instead of giving up, as a counter-reflex, he hammered out the game’s entire design document.


His main goal was to use “trials” as the game’s main theme, but to keep it from being stiff or dry. The characters would be passionate and eccentric, and the main direction would be “finding contradictions in testimonies and battering these contradictions with evidence”.


When Iwata suggests that it was due to the skepticism Takumi had to face from his colleagues that Ace Attorney had such a clear focus from the start, Takumi agrees. Essentially, if there was an idea the others didn’t like, then he’d work around it and create something that still incorporated his original idea but would also win his naysayers over.


Again, one of Takumi’s main goals was to make the game easy to understand, despite the law association. The system he came up with essentially involved listening to the testimony in its entirety once, and then allowing the player to pick out the lies in the form of a cross-examination. Because the game was focused around letting players discover contradictions and experience an “Aha!” moment, Takumi separated the trials into separate chunks and the main story into separate chapters, so the player would have several opportunities to do this.


When Iwata mentions that this might’ve been where the “good feeling” from the Ace Attorney series came about, Takumi states that, at the time, he never really thought about it this way. Because the development team consisted of only seven people, they poured their energy into doing whatever they felt was interesting at the time. They were also concentrating on pushing the capabilities of the portable system they were working on (the Game Boy Advance).


The GBA’s limitations were what restricted the story the most, but the end result was still fun and engaging. When asked why this was, Takumi credited luck and his lack of fear due to still being new to the industry. As a result, he would just write and write, while leaving the actual sorting out of details for later.


With regard to this, Takumi points out an interesting change that was made at the behest of his colleagues. What is currently Chapter 2 in the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was initially supposed to be Chapter 1, Takumi recalls. However, as fans may remember, this is where an important character dies. Takumi’s colleagues pointed out that this death was much too sudden, which was why Takumi inserted another story into the game as Chapter 1, so that the character in question could be introduced and the loss would be all the more impactful afterwards. Takumi hadn’t even considered this possibility.


Iwata summarizes the development process as: “rather than not going by the book, it was that you didn’t even have a concept of the book”. Takumi agrees, stating that because this was his first time writing scenarios, he had no grasp of what was considered good technique. After the game was released and he listened to the fans’ comments and reactions, he felt that he was gaining experience, just as Phoenix himself gained experience with each game.

  • SuperSailorV

    “After the game was released and he listened to the fans’ comments and reactions, he felt that he was gaining experience, just as Phoenix himself gained experience with each game.”

    There’s an exp system in Ace Attorney?!

    Bad joke. Get off my back, I own every localized AA game and Feenie’s one of my mains in UMVC3.

    • Well, I think it only means that Phoenix is growing with every trial in every game. Notice that in AA5, he has now matured and this is displayed by him unbuttoning his coat.

      • SuperSailorV


  • AlteisenX

    I’ve played through the series of Phoenix Wright about 3 or 4 times now, and it NEVER gets old. That’s saying something for a visual novel-esque game.

  • Barrylocke89

    That was a nice little read. I’m glad that Takumi stuck to his guns and wasn’t too dismayed by his colleagues being skeptical. It worked out very nicely in the end, I’d say.

  • I just want to know who thought it would be a great idea to try localizing them for the West. I like to think that some guy thought it would be funny to take this distinctly Japanese game, change all the goofy names into even goofier English names that no human being would ever be called, put the script in the Japanese version a few months before they try to sneak just a few thousand copies of the English games in stores without telling anyone, and then the guy is fired or laid off shortly before the series becomes a big success and he’s therefore never credited for his idea that eventually culminates in Phoenix appearing in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Chivalry is dead.

    • ie, covert ops? XD

    • Tom_Phoenix

      Personally, not only do I want to know who thought of the idea to try localising them, I also want to know who among the higher-ups at Capcom approved it and allowed the company to go through with it.

      Giving the go-ahead to the localisation of a series of visual novels who’ve almost never had a place in western markets must have taken BALLS OF STEEL. It flies in the face of common business logic and was a financial risk (not a huge one, but a financial risk regardless). Whoever that person was, they have my highest respect for seeing potential in something that most other people would have most likely dismissed out of hand.

      It’s kind of amazing how, sometimes, the stars will align just right for absolutely crazy things like this to happen.

  • Settsuo

    This is why the industry needs to take more chances. New IPs, localizations the whole nine yards. Game Developers are cashing out on Third-Tier games and DLC it’s insane. Glad AA was even conceived and pushed forward in this day and age.

    • SuperSailorV

      OBJECTION! It wasn’t really pushed forward in THIS day and age. It was developed for the GBA!

      I understand your sentiment, though. I miss the PS2 era, when developers weren’t afraid to take silly, silly concepts and make them into games. Gone are the days of cheap and easy game development, though. On the other hand, there HAS been a lot of new IPs on Capcom’s end alone; Dragon’s Dogma, Remember Me, Asura’s Wrath to name a few… but there are two to three rehashings, HD ports or sequels for every one of those…

  • VenerableSage

    As much as I enjoy Ace Attorney, there’s one thing that always bugs me: the aforementioned combinations of testimony and evidence.

    Now, it’s been some time since I played 2-4, but having recently played through the first game’s cases again, the thing that annoys me the most (which, to be fair, is limited by the programming and script) is how I would use a piece of evidence to contradict a testimony statement, but the linearity of the story dictates that the evidence causes the Judge to penalize Wright. I realize that they can’t think of every possible situation where a player might use evidence, but it would be a bit nicer if there were more available options instead of just the default ones that they’ve tended to stick with.

    • British_Otaku

      Agreed on that, in some few situations I present a piece of evidence and get penalized despite having the correct flow of logic in mind such as X went to this location so the map or item that blocked the exhaust as earlier established makes sense in AA4: Apollo Justice, however they want you to indicate the transport even if that is already established. >_>

      Perhaps they will get less linear (or have responses which give you a second chance to make a point) in the future, for now they are incredibly fun visual novels with a few cases which have a few moments which end up with you being penalized despite knowing what you are doing.

  • Auvers

    chapter 2 is still too early, you barely got to know who Mia was.

  • Ali

    Thank you so much for the article! I’ve learnt a lot as someone working in the game industry. Much appreciated!

  • Elvick

    Wish they’d do like a ‘collection’ on the 3DS or something, because some of these are going for some hefty prices. ): I’d like to try the series, but that holds me back. That and the unknown future of it.

    • Exkaiser

      Unknown future? The next main game has been announced for the 3DS and confirmed for localization.

      I’d say eShop releases would be pretty decent ways to collect the games on the 3DS (and a fairly decent way to localize the missing AAI2). After all, several of the games have already shown up on the Wii shop and on iOS.

  • TVippy

    Interesting that he discredited Mikami here, who’s considered one of the creators of the series.

    • Armane

      I don’t think anyone considered him as a creator of the series. His only credit was as an Executive Producer.

      • TVippy

        Ex. Producer in games can mean anything – from supervising a project once a month, to being a full-on lead of the team.

        • Armane

          Well Mikami is more the hands-off supervising type. Regardless calling him a creator is definitely misleading.

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